For Paralympic champion Dylan Alcott, the Australian Open serves up exceptional memories. From watching Lleyton Hewitt battle it out at Rod Laver Arena as a teenager, to taking out his first Grand Slam at the event last year, the iconic Melbourne experience has a special place in his heart.
The Australian Open again returns to Rod Laver Arena and surrounds from January 16 to 29. There will be some changes from previous years, including the AO Festival, a new-look entertainment and food precinct at Birrarung Marr.
With Alcott back on court this year hoping to defend his 2016 title, the reigning champ gives us his tips for getting the most out of a day in and around the Open.
When to get tickets
Alcott says a great way to get started with the Australian Open is purchasing tickets to centre court during the first week.
“You get to see all the best players in one place and the vibe is awesome,” he says. If you’re up for a stroll, a ground pass will get you a good look around, too. “It’ll allow you to see all the courts for a great price, and gets you the best tan in the January sun,” he says.
What to look out for
“Call me biased but I’m pretty into the wheelchair tennis competition starting in the second week,” says Alcott. “Come check us out; we will put on a show.”
Outside of his own division, he’s keen to check other Aussies across all draws, and will be making a beeline for Roger Federer’s matches.
“I’m a massive fan,” he says. “It's a privilege to watch him every time he’s in Australia.”
Players to watch
“Andy Murray is on fire at the minute and also a ripping bloke in the locker room,” Alcott says. He also recommends keeping an eye on Australians Daria Gavrilova, Sam Stosur, and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
“Dasha [Daria Gavrilova] is definitely one to watch,” he says. “She has had an incredible year and it will be great to see what she can bring to the table come January. Also Thanassi is coming off a long injury break, so it'll be good to see him back slapping a few on court.”
What to eat
Alcott says he’s into Asian flavours at the moment, so will be checking out the Japanese street food at Tokyo Tina, part of the line-up of new offerings at this year’s AO Festival at Birrarung Marr.
“It’s one of the best,” he says. “Great food and an awesome crew.” He’s also keen to check out Jimmy Grants and Gazi, courtesy of George Calombaris, as well as Mamasita-offshoot Hotel Jesus, from Matt Lane. For more relaxed dining he suggests Huxtaburger. “I’m partial to a cheeky burger from time to time,” he says. “They’re one of the best.”
Before his own matches Alcott says he always listens to hip hop to get him in the mood for competing. Before he started playing professionally, Alcott would attend the Australian Open as a spectator and enjoy a different routine. “Back then having a cheeky few in the beer garden in the sun was an absolute must.”
When Alcott isn’t on the court, he’ll most likely be at a gig. “There are some awesome acts on the Australian Open Live Stage this year,” he says. “The Temper Trap, Peking Duk and the great man Daryl Braithwaite belting out Horses.”
Alcott says it’s not the only aspect of the event worth getting close and personal with. “Make sure you head out to the outside courts where you can literally stand three metres away from the players serving 250kph bombs,” he says. “It's very impressive.”
This article presented in partnership with Australian Open 2017.